The art of ice sculpting is synonymous with Alaska and particularly Fairbanks. During my visit to Chena Hot Springs Resort I took the hour long tour of their Aurora Ice Museum which features the work of award winning artist Steve Brice.
As you enter the museum, the first thing that you will probably notice is that they must keep it very cold inside to assure that the quality of the exhibits are not damaged by warm air. They keep it at approximately 20° F and while that may feel balmy when compared to the outside temperatures that are consistently below zero, you will want to be sure to be warmly dressed. I found it very interesting as I looked at the construction of the building itself, as from the inside it looked like it was one big Styrofoam cooler, lined with the white thermal protection.
The first display inside is the workshop which has several of their signature martini glasses as works in progress. Take a look at the photo attached to this review to see the tools of an ice carver... chisels, electric drills and hammers. You can also see in the photo a block of the ice that is used to create the wonderful pieces of art.
Walking into the central area of the museum, the beautiful pulsating colors are vivid and are designed to replicate the aurora borealis in terms of the changing hues reflected in the ice. There are several themed exhibits including two jousting warriors, an oversized chess set, a chapel alter that has been used for wedding ceremonies, the Coca-Cola polar bear and the beautiful hanging chandeliers are just a few of the ice sculptures you will see. The main focal point in the room, however, is the real bar that is fully made of ice to include the bar stools and sitting area around several bar tables. The tops of the stools had a fur covering to prevent your butt from sticking to the cold ice. It is here where visitors can purchase a martini served in an ice martini glass. Because I was here in the middle of the afternoon and was in a very small group of just two, I took a pass on the experience.
At the back end of the large room was the “Ice Hotel” where guests can spend the night sleeping on a bed of ice in reindeer fur sleeping bags. It was very interesting, but I personally cannot imagine sleeping in a room of ice where the temperature remains at a constant 20° F. My favorite of the four rooms was the one with the four-poster bear bed with a lovely Christmas tree providing special ambience.
If you are interested in doing this tour, you will need to sign up at the resort’s activity center. The price is $15 and does not include the martini. Tours are scheduled at specific times throughout the day, so you will need to know what time you wish to visit and make sure you arrive at the Aurora Ice Museum on time. Once the group enters the building, the main doors are closed and additional people are not permitted to enter.
For those who want to learn to create art from ice, you can sign up for a three day ice carving class given by the artist himself. At a pricey $1,800 per person, lodging at the Chena Hot Springs Resort is included.